The 2012 offseason ended up quite pivotal in the turnaround we have seen by the Portland Trail Blazers. First, in June 2012 the Blazers used their sixth pick on Damian Lillard (and the 11th on Meyers Leonard) and he ended up winning the Rookie of the Year and took the league by storm in the process.
Second, they matched an offer sheet that Nicolas Batum signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves to keep their young small forward in Trail Blazer black and red and he has worked himself into being one of the most versatile players in the Association.Hidden in between those moves was a deal the team ultimately decided not to make, and that decision might be the one that we look back on and say, “that would have changed everything — and not in a good way.”
Roy Hibbert was a restricted free agent during the summer of 2012 and though by all reports the Indiana Pacers were set to match any offer sheet he signed, the Blazers were interested. Portland made it known they were interested in the center who had just come off his career season averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 49.7 percent from the field — all of those are still career highs two seasons later.
However, after all the dust settled Portland decided not to extend an offer sheet to Hibbert, because they did not want their money tied up while they waited the three days for the Pacers to match or let Hibbert walk.
I’ve already made it known that I think the decision was key in the Blazers’ turnaround up to this point, and perhaps more importantly moving forward as well. Let’s compare how Hibbert has fared versus the two men who manned the center position for the Blazers over the last two seasons.
Hibbert did end up re-signing with the Pacers in July 2012 and the deal was four years, $58.4 million. Hibbert has been abysmal since then. His defense at the rim is the only saving grace for his game at this point and I fully understand that he is not meant to be a scoring center, but the ineptitude is difficult to see.
Those are Hibbert’s last two seasons where he made $13.7 million (2012-13) and $14.3 million (2013-14). So he averaged approximately $14 million over the last two seasons for his salary from the Pacers.
What did they get in return? Two-season averages of 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and posting a PER of 15.4 (league average is 15.0).
The Pacers paid Hibbert $1.23 million per point scored and $1.87 million per rebound retrieved over that span! Big men get paid in this league but that production isn’t worth the salary.
Hickson played one full season with the Blazers in 2012-13 and earned $4 million that year. Hickson was severely undersized as a center and playing with him made LaMarcus Aldridge realize how much the team needed a legitimate center to help them win games, and so that he could play power forward.
Enter, Robin Lopez. Lopez was acquired via trade with New Orleans and he came in and did a masterful job in 2013-14 for this Blazer squad and made $5.9 million in salary.
There you can see each player’s individual stats and here are their collective two-year averages: 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 55.7 percent overall and posting a combined 18.7 PER rating over that span. The only real area where Hibbert bested them was blocks and this past season Lopez picked up the slack in the area and finished fifth in the league at 1.7 blocks per night.
The two combined averaged a $4.95 million salary, which means the Blazers paid $415,966 per point and $521,052 per rebound from Hickson and Lopez — a stark difference and discount from what Hibbert was doled out.
I didn’t put this together to belittle Hibbert — though it seems I may have done so by accident — but more so to point out that restricted free agency isn’t always a negative thing. Sometimes this process can literally save a team from itself and I think that’s precisely what happened here.
If the NBA did not have restricted free agency, it’s likely that Roy Hibbert would be a Portland Trail Blazer right now and in turn, Nicolas Batum would not be. Players move teams about as often as NBA bloggers make a Pitch Perfect reference on Twitter (there are millions!) and without restricted free agency it would be much worse, so for all those RFA naysayers — I’m one of ‘em — this just goes to show that it can yield a positive result, even if it is only one way.